Articles by: Benedetta Grasso

  • Events: Reports

    No more FGM in the name of the UN

     In regards of gender-issues and women rights these are contradicting times: earned equal rights co-exist with hard to eradicate stereotypes, general progressive laws are entwined in hidden unspoken ones, definitions of single genders are complicated, and un-traditional behaviors are mixed with a very clear-cut depiction of men and women. Yet, there are still issues that are outrageous when it comes to women and it’s not a matter of nuisances: they are simply wrong.

    In Africa FGM, Female Genital Mutilation, is a barbaric practice and its roots run deep into ancient traditions imposed by men on incredibly young girls: it’s a health issue, it’s a sexual violation, a psychological torture and it may lead to infections, infertility as well as decreasing female sexual pleasure. Something that comes off as a “coming of age ritual”, leaves a girl scarred instead of turning her into a woman.

    Italian politician Emma Bonino, vice President of the Italian Senate, has founded the organization No Peace Without Justice that recognizes this practice as a violation of human rights and as torture. Along with The Inter-African Committee (IAC) and the European Network for the Prevention and Eradication of Harmful Traditional Practices, she is changing the local laws, spreading knowledge and fighting to have a Resolution, a ban of FGM, at the United Nations General Assembly.

    At the Helmsley Hotel on Septmeber 23rd, 2010, during the 65th General Assembly, diplomats, members of the governments of Italy, Burkina Faso and many other countries, together with politicians, activists and members of anti-FGM organizations, attended a high-level event, discussing the steps to take in order to definitively ban FGM in the name of human dignity, solidarity and respect of women rights.

    The Masters of Ceremony, Dr Morissanda Kouyatè (Director of Operations IAC-CIAF) and Dr Niccolò Figà-Talamanca emphasized that this is a historical turning point where the important thing is to make people sensitive to the issue and promote world solidarity by moving forward with this campaign.

    On the campaign posters and fliers there is the picture of a young girl: the close-up of her scared, serious face. That little girl is Khady Koita, the physical proof that this is something that has to be fought. She is now a woman and wrote a book called Mutilèe about her experience. Her goal is to increase prevention, make sure that this doesn’t happen again, protect the dignity and integrity of women, and avoid the “violation of young women, of little girls that cannot speak up”. “The world ban of FGM is for a better future”

    Emma Bonino has dedicated her life to fight FGM and has traveled to Africa many times to speak with local governments and try to get things changed. She was pleased to see new faces in the crowd, so that the campaign can “grow in strength” and also to see some of the members of the Italian Senate and Parliament in the audience, such as Lamberto Dini – Italy’s ex-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister –because “it means the institutions are listening and talking about this issue”. As Bonino put it, “to ban FGM is possible, we must do it and it has to be both a bottom up and top-down approach. We need activists but also leaders”.

    All of the speakers agreed with her that now is the time to act and that the idea of a ban within the UN is essential.

    Rachel Mayanja (Special Advisor of the UN Secretary General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women) pointed out that the biggest challenge is not in convincing the UN but in changing the local culture, in having the people break out of the traditional mindset, of practices so deeply rooted in a culture. Shortly after Carol Bellamy (Chair of IB Board of Governors, and former Executive Director of UNICEF) expressed her idea that “no matter what, violence is not culture”.

    Louise Arbour (President of International Crisis Group and former High Commissioner for Human Rights) declared, “This is a private thing that has now become an international issue. It has to be seen as a tradition but it is an outrage just the same. All women and men are born equal”.

    Franco Frattini, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that when the matter was raised in the Italian Senate there was a strong support of the ban. “These traditions are hard to stop, but let’s not wait. Let’s do it now. Now is the moment. This is a civilian goal and a matter of will.”

    Spreading education and increasing the quality of living conditions will also help to end some of these tortures. Even today, in many societies, women have less power than men, and they often can’t even make a decision on their own. It is harder than it should be to put an end to discriminations and find the best way to restore human dignity to women and girls, considering that women are the key to life, and that a healthy reproduction, personal freedom and mutual respect are the forces that move the planet forward.


    International Campaign to Ban Female Genital Mutilation Worldwide at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly
    Welcome by:
    Mariam Lamizaba, President of Inter African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children
    Alvilda Jablonk, FGM Coordinator, No Peace Without Justice
    Khady Kpita, President of LA Palabre, member of EuroNet-FGM
    Remarks by
    Emma Bonino, Vice President of the Italian Senate, founder of No Peace Without Justice
    Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women
    Carol Bellamy, Chair of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Board of Governors, former Executive Director of UNICEF
    Louise Arbour, President of the International Crisis Group, former High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Franco Frattini, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
    Guest of Honor:
    H.E. Chantal Compaorè, First Lady of Burkina Faso and Good-Will Ambassador of Inter-African Committee
    Why Support a UN Ban with:
    Memouna Baboni, Adviser to the President of the Republic, Benin
    Natogoma Soro Coulibaly, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Cote d’Ivoire
    Safia Djibril Elmi, Member of Parliament, Djibouti
    Ndeye Soukeye Gueye, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Senegal
    Rahim Kamara, President of Manifesto 99, Sierra Leone
    Yao Kpogo, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Togo

  • Op-Eds

    9/11/2010: Flashes of Memories and Light

    Two beams of blue light visible throughout Lower Manhattan and even from Brooklyn or Jersey City.

    We are in 2010 and by now we all should all be familiar with “A Tribute in Light,” an artistic installation first conceived in 2002, a year after the infamous attack. We should all be familiar with it, since the lives of all of us drastically changed in big or small ways after that day. I was just starting high school, a moment that represented a turning point for me, I was stepping into a new stage of live, I was beginning to have a sort of  a political consciousness, and those terrorist attacks became my closest personal experience to the war or the idea of it. They became an historical event particularly felt by people of my generation, a generation of which values and interests would have been shaped by them.
    Nine years have gone by, presidents have changed, just as the culture of this country and its image and popularity. Books, movies, witnesses and popular culture have all analyzed in one way or the other those traumatic events and their consequences.

    It’s impossible not to say what has already been said. For the victims and their relatives it was a huge tragedy. For America it was a heart-stopping shock and a moment to stop and think; citizens and families bounded together but the society was broken into pieces as opinions became more radical and extremist.  At the same time, however, a wide array of debates contributed  to the growth of a more sophisticated political debate and the birth of a of a nationally conscious public opinion.

    For most of the other countries that was a cathartic moment, a media event that involved you emotionally and have you sympathize with the victims although you had no real connection with them. Today we use expressions or theorize on concepts that exist only because of 9/11

    And then there are the beams of light...

    A few nights ago they were tested for a few hours, but  they will be officially lit only on September 11 at sunset. On that moment I wondered for a few minutes what those glimpses of blue light breaking through my window glasses were and why I could see blue shadows on the white walls of my apartment.
    I realized that sometimes we need physical objects or actual rituals to re-think about  events we quickly put behind us. Looking at the blue shadows, I remembered a family friend who told me how on the day of the attack  the dust invaded his apartment in the World Trade Center area covering every piece of furniture in the house, like if it had snowed inside. Thinking about his recounts I asked myself: what if this light coming in was dust instead?  What if it was the smell of corpses? What if the blue light was coming from the siren of a Police car?

    Walking around my neighborhood, located a few blocks away from Ground Zero, I noticed  that everything and nothing is being done in view of the upcoming anniversary from 9/11.  

    If a few years ago I walked near Wall Street and saw more men in uniform than men in business suit, I would have probably got scared.  Metal barriers everywhere, streets closed, police cars and white NYPD traffic bars at every corner... I still see all of this today, but now I know that everything is under control: a stage is being set for the Official World Trade Center Site Memorial Ceremony and Remembrance 2010 , which will take place on Saturday at 8:45 am at the presence of  survivors, victims’ families, the Mayor and thousands of people.

    As I walk on  Greenwich Street and head towards the 9/11 Museum I see a golden plaque featuring the names of the victims. A  few tourists are taking pictures or homaging them with fresh flowers. The names are all there, they are Jewish, Arab, Hispanic, Italian... Italian American. Among the others, I find those of Vincent A. Princiotta, Michael P. Ragusa or Leonard J. Ragaglia. Their names are half Italian and half American, and show to my eyes how real the  myth of the American melting pot is.

    As a keep walking around, I stop before the nearby fire-fighter station. A group of kinder-garden kids is following a fire-fighter inside the building. He is telling them about his job and what it means to him. I look at the children and I notice how deeply they are fascinated by his stories, they follow him just as if they were participating to a game, a treasure hunt maybe.  My thoughts go to their piers who in 2001 had to run away from their classrooms after the planes crushed into the towers.

    My mind goes back to Milan, to the professors who, right after the attack, escorted my classmates and I out of school as we were told to go back home, watch the news, stay with our parents, and call whoever we knew in the US.

    Today the Financial District area is busier than ever. Chinese restaurants, sushi and pizza places at every corner... The neighborhood has become lively and much more exciting than before in the past few years.
    Thanks to its wonderful location by the Hudson and the consistent renovations and investments on real estate that have been made in the last few years, the area is attracting more and more young people, including “yuppies” about to start a family and college students. With its greatly improved services, the Financial District is still a classy area but is also fillew with a new, growing energy.  

    Obviously Ground 0 is not empty anymore....  The high rhythms of NY life can’t keep you from noticing tha the landscape changing every second. You see a work-in-progress sign one day and a building the other, or a new park near the West Highway with basketball and soccer fields or beautiful gardens. Cranes are constantly working and every day shop-owners enjoy a new sight from their window. The “joke” going around the neighborhood is: it’s not ground 0 anymore but ground 2 or 4 or 5 depending on how much of the new World Trade Center has been built already….

    People on the street are talking about Terry Jones, the pastor from Florida who is intending to  burn the Koran on 9/11 causing a fierce debate worldwide and forcing Obama to intervene. Many are those who gather every day on Broadway to protest against the new Mosque, announcing a great demonstration to be held this September 11.
    Public opinion is split into two currents of thought. On one side there are those who fight in favor of the freedom of speech, and of the democratic value of reciprocal acceptance. Among them, major Bloomberg recently underlined the high symbolic importance of allowing the building of an Islamic cultural center in the area.
    Those who protest against it, on the other side, fear that the new Islamic center will welcome and support practices that are in contrast with Western values and find it shameful to support the building of a monument related to a religion in the name of which terrorists have caused so much pain to the American people.

    Personally speaking, I find that everybody should just forget everything about monuments, towers or mosques and look up to those beams of light.
    On that day my generation has learned what a cultural shock is, what a tragedy can mean.  We became more cynical, more critical but even more fascinated by other cultures and international politics as well. I can’t speak for everyone but we are not a generation who likes monuments. We like things like the web, that are less tangible but that have the power to reach everyone in the world.These beams of light are something like that.
    They also remind me of stars, of constellations that can be seen from everywhere in the planet, no matter where you are. They represent our history and make of the universe an open air museum, an explosion of memories glimpsing right above us.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Slow Food, Fast Changes. We Met Carlo Petrini ...

     In the heart of Langhe, the eno-gastronomic paradise of Piedmont, close to Turin, stands a fascinating campus, revolutionary in terms of schooling in a very internationalized atmosphere that brings continents and cultures closer together than one might have ever imagined.

    The University of Gastronomic Sciences was founded by Carlo Petrini, who was born and raised in Piedmont and is the mind and the founder behind the global Slow Food movement, and a celebrity in certain professional and educational circles in the United States and in the world.

    This is a campus like no others: typically Italian in its architecture (built around Roman ruins), location and setting, it has more foreign students than Italian ones; and built as a campus, it has spread around the nearby cities, reproducing the American formative experience of the college years, a very rare and unique experience in Italy where young students don’t typically room and board together or take classes far away from home.

    Its students are not only from some of the smallest countries in the world, but they also  carry on agricultural traditions that  are sometimes very different from those of the Western world. They might have never seen a university nor lived in an actual city before, but through scholarships and farmers’ meetings such as Terra Madre they’ve come into contact with new ways of thinking about food, culture, environmental policies and economic development.

    Although extremely focused on food, eating and the Slow Food movement philosophy - a movement begun in 1989 to oppose the fast food culture and to protect disappearing local traditions and authentic dishes and tastes -  this is not a cooking school, a Cordon Bleu-type of workshop for young chefs, nor is it a center to theoretically analyze the anthropological elements of food.

    All these elements are present, but at the University of Pollenzo, Gastronomic Sciences are seen through the eyes of biology, chemistry, global economy, environmental practices and actual production.

    Its labs, classrooms and workshops are sci-fi like, with technology that is not even on campuses like Stanford or Harvard. There is a tasting room where each cubicle is connected to a computer, three kinds of lighting systems to analyze the look of a product and its appearance, advanced technologies to enhance the taste, the smell and a state of the art kitchen where the products are prepared.

    While touring the campus with Mr. Petrini, we met with some of the freshmen, who were looking around the campus fascinated: kids from Spain, Turkey and the United States. John, from Kenya, lived on a very small piece of land in Africa with nine brothers and now discusses the issues of biodiversity, techniques of agriculture and organic foods. He works on campus, tries to keep his GPA high for his scholarship and in only one year has learned Italian and improved his English is the language in which most of the classes are taught.

    This private university is very selective and will shape the minds of a new generation of young gastronomers, politicians, farmers, and food experts who will revolutionize the way we think about food for generations to come.

    After an incredibly great and relaxing lunch, I sat down with Mr. Petrini and asked him some questions.

    How did Slow Food arrive from Italy to the United States?

    The first signs of the spread of the Slow Food movement appeared in the early 1990s in the United States and the essential idea behind the movement was the respect for different food cultures in the world. Our approach in this primitive stage was maybe geared towards the wrong target, though, and limited its message instead of moving it forward. We contacted and tried to establish ourselves through the Italian communities abroad, which lead people to believe our focus was on trying to give value to Italian products. Our idea was the opposite of a niche cuisine.

    At the beginning, probably for six or seven years, we lost touch with the American reality, and Slow food, in the United States, was closely associated with the Italian or Italian American culture and there was a fascination for the concept of “slow” vs. fast as a philosophy of life, as the embodiment of the “Italian” way of enjoying life.

    When we realized that the true essence of Slow Food was instead to deeply understand the diverse souls within the workers on a planetary level, their efforts linked to agriculture, environment policies and the production of food, we hit the jackpot in America where, starting with the ‘90s the interest in the politics of food was developing more and more. At that point Slow Food became the vessel, the symbol of this new wave which started with a very peculiar campaign in the US, a campaign that fought for the production of cheese made from raw milk (formaggio di latte crudo) which, up until that point, no one was allowed to produce in the United States. We collected thousands and thousands of signatures in all the states and the movement grew, touching upon the issues of biodiversity and the diversity of products. Now you can find these kinds of cheeses everywhere in the United States. I was behind the movement that led to the creation of tons of farmers’ markets, as we know them today. One of the first markets that I personally helped open was in 1996 in Chicago, and then there was another one in New Orleans.

    Now you have thousands of them; and while at first they attracted only the wealthy, now they are being created even in the more impoverished areas or in the ethnic areas such as the Hispanic neighborhood in San Francisco. 

    Can you give an example of how the issue of food diversity came about in the US?

    Well, for example there are the micro-breweries that produce beer. In the ‘80s in the US there were mainly a few giant companies producing beer. Now there are over 3500 breweries, recognized and widespread, that have already conquered over 10-12% of the market and that are unique in their own ways (one might follow the Dutch tradition, another the English one).

    In Europe we have a rich diversity of items produced, and it’s an historical legacy, which must be protected. In the US instead it’s the other way around: they are building from the bottom to the top and creating a “new” diversity, thus going back to the roots.

    So how did the perception of Slow Food change through the years?

    Well, after a while it no longer was an Italian association launched abroad, but a global association. Now we have over 40,000 members of Slow Food in the United States, more than 200 convivia (local chapters), in all 50 states. We are studied and presented in 25 universities by on-campus organizations and we have 600-700 productive communities that work on biologic and organic agriculture.

    How did the Italian University of Pollenzo get started?

    The idea came around 1998-99 and it wasn’t long since we already prepared curricula, calendars and programs. Then we got permits from the authorities and organized the campus life. Classes officially started in 2004 and every year we have more and more applicants but we are very selective so that only a small group can benefit from a great amount of personal attention to every student’s needs and interests. We follow the European degree structure (3 + 2 years of study) and we have master courses that are attended mostly by International students, especially Americans.

    (While we were walking around the campus he also added that the university is very focused in connecting the students to the real world.)

    We create groups of three to four students that then travel together and practice through projects and internships all across Italy and the world. They are accompanied by a professor or Slow Food member and they have over 120 options: internships in Brazil, the United States, Japan, India, Africa. We give two HD video-cameras to each of these groups and they interview chefs, experts, people around them and then they bring everything into our labs and we collect these testimonies, creating what we call “Granai della memoria”. Then we discuss themes and edit them in our classes.

    We are also creating options for students to build a community and create their own small micro-society. We want to create Gastronomic Societies on campus where you have a structure with a kitchen, where the students can cook, eat and invite 20-30 people, but they have to share their expenses, utilities bills, etc. 

    You are coming to New York at the end of August and in October to present your initiatives such as the Food Expo/convention Terra Madre. You’ll also be present at the inauguration of Eataly in Manhattan (A food and wine center founded by Oscar Farinetti where visitors can buy, taste and learn about high-quality food and drink already famous in Turin and other Italian cities). Why is Eataly important in the context of Italian cuisine abroad?

    There are great expectations for the opening of Eataly in New York. You have to start by contextualizing Italian gastronomic culture in American society, which is a complex and exciting issue. Italian food culture has always had a strong identity, but there are so many nuisances and a huge amount of syncretism that developed through the years.

    The original memories and traditions of our immigrants have mixed with the new knowledge, technologies and modus operandi of the American society, so nowadays we are looking at an extraordinary gastronomic phenomenon which embodies all the variegated faces of Italian American cuisine.

    There is a famous movie “Big Night” in which two Italian American brothers are trying to save their restaurant from failure. One brother is more of a traditionalist, attached to authenticity while the other looks with envy at the nearby restaurant, that is more Americanized and sees that it attracts more clients. The movie revolves around the conflict between these two views. Nowadays this same conflict is not only in restaurants but in American households since people know a lot more about the origins of food.

    Eataly comes at an interesting time with a mission that goes beyond bringing Italian excellence abroad. It focuses, instead, on the Italian esprit, because American society doesn’t want to be colonized by our products. The main concern is on the freshness of the product.

    Authenticity is important, but bringing fresh products from Italy, most of the time, is counterproductive for the environment. Americans are moving towards a local culture and on top of this we are consuming Co2 when we transfer fresh peppers from Italy to the United States. So it will be interesting to follow the way Eataly imports its food on sale and display.

    Obviously there are things like a bottle of Barolo, or Parmigiano Reggiano DOP that can only be produced in Italy; but when you are making pasta with tomato sauce in Manhattan, it makes more sense to get those tomatoes from a farmer in the states of New York or New Jersey than from Italy.

    It will be interesting to follow the relationship between Eataly and the local farmers while promoting and keeping the Italian tradition at its best.

    Eataly will be central in dealing with three important realities: the Italian savoir faire, the Italian DOP products and the American products produced with the Italian “spirit”.

    In any case its inauguration comes at a time when Americans are generally very open to and understanding of Italian culture.

    Carlin Petrini has also founded Terra Madre, which is the most important meeting of farmers and local producers in the world, with 5000 delegates from 163 countries. From the United States alone there are about 600 delegates. Along with the farmers come the universities, the experts, the restaurant owners, and everyone who works on the politics of food. The next Terra Madre meeting will be in Turin, Italy on October 21st, and Petrini is planning to host the following one in the United States calling over 10,000 farmers.

    Mr Petrini is coming to the United States this fall to speak at the most important Ivy league Universities: Harvard, Yale and Princeton, and also Taft University in Boston. He wants to engage as many young people as possible so that they will learn that food is essential to understanding our world, the environment and the global economy, and our way of life. In this way, young people are more and more informed and aware of other cultures, of food “ethics”, quality, and dietary laws. Young people need to glance at developing countries such as Africa, India, and China in order to really comprehend the revolutions in agriculture and the economic growth that will sprout from of these developing societies.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Alto Adige: Bites of Stories and the Flavor of the Dolomites

     A sleek glass table, long and surrounded by elegant and classy stools. A dashing and yet cozy wine bar (Clo's Wine Bar) on the 4th floor of the famous Time Warner building at the center of Columbus Circle in New York. On the table a few simple items, placed in front of every seat: five glasses of wine with their names and origin aptly written on the table mat; a small white plate with samplings of different cheeses alternated to various kinds and cuts of speck. 

    All around, in dimly lit modern-looking glass cells, bottles of a huge variety of wines are stored, with silvery spouts under which a glass can be placed to enjoy the results of these fine vintages.

    While tasting a small piece of cheese, a sweet and spicy bite of a product made in far away mountains, one can see the contrast between a setting of almost perfect beauty and the rough, simple pleasures of life: this contrast is also perfectly captured by the Alto Adige area in the North-East of Italy.

    In Trentino-Alto Adige the nature around you is spectacular: the Dolomites with their white crests of snow and the shade of rose that tinges them every dusk, the perfect mountain-like architecture of the wooden chalets, houses and hotels with decorated windows, roofs white in the winter and shiny and silvery in the summer. These mountains and the area around them has been preserved incredibly well: ther are still plenty of animals and trees species that are unique to this location and the paths and walks around the hills and mountains seem like a painted landscape. The rivers and falls seem to be placed perfectly where they have to be.  In the summer the green pastures and the colorful flowers cover up all the white and brown of the winter and surround the stones and the shiny rocks.

    Alto Adige, which welcomes thousands of tourists every year, still maintains though a very basic life-style. Although launched into modernity, most people living there are still following the way of life of their ancestors, the agricultural and farming traditions of centuries ago. They are still in touch with the land, the original products, the natural way of making something but their specialties and brands have reached out around the world and sometimes can be seen in gourmet menus or in stores on the other side of the globe.

    One of these stores is Di Palo Fine Foods, in the heart of Little Italy, New York, where constant efforts to bring the best and authentic Made in Italy products has turned this store in an affordable and unique food shopping experience.
    Forth generation of an Italian-American family, Lou Di Palo has traveled many times to Italy, getting to know the territory, its big companies or small farms, meeting people and trying new tasting experience, exploring the land. He can very eloquently tell you a story about one of these trips but, more important, he can tell you a story behind every product he sells: he makes it a priority to explain not only the origin, but the history, sometimes the legends or personal stories behind a piece of cheese.

    He perfectly contextualizes every product for his American clients, as his very personal "Italian American point of view" perfectly combines with a strong knowledge of modern Italian culture, terms and traditional and modern way of life.

    Thus, celebrating Trentino-Alto Adige through an event sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, EOS (Export Organization Südtirol) and the Italian Ministry of Economic Development was a much more complete and enjoyable experience with Lou DiPalo hosting the event. 

    The guests, in fact, were invited to sit back and guided through each single bite, slowly and carefully. As an example, Lou gave precise instructions on how to taste the Asiago cheese and the wines to which it can be and was paired. The small cuts of speck brought other stories to his mind, and he described for us the physical feeling of flavors and images that came with those memories. Eating together should always be about sharing past experiences, ideas and laugh.
    Hearing about the beauty of seeing a cow giving birth or the legends behind the famous rosy color of the Dolomites, can actually stimulate the five senses all at once. 

    Trentino-Alto Adige is a border region. The "Alto Adige" part on which this event focused is also called South Tyrol and confines with Austria to the north and Switwerland to the north-west.

    The languages spoken are both Italian and German but also a local dialect, which comes from a mix of both, and the ancient idiom called ladino that is spoken only in few communities.

    A well-known vacation spot for Italians (and not only) during the winter, it offers one of the best skiing experience in the world, with hundreds of ski resorts, slopes and endless opportunities for snow sports. On a snowy day, most of its cities, sometimes built in the Middle Ages or even centuries before, look like a fairytale landscape. 

    When the snow goes away, the sun beats down on the rivers, the small lakes and the grass as families and tourists hike or enjoy the pure mountain air. 

    Being an area always contended between Italians, Austrians and Germans its identity is still nowadays very complex to define. The new generation feels Italian but the previous one might still try to identify itself in an autonomous community, somehow independent both from Austria and Italy. However, as Lou Di Palo beautifully said, you can get the best of both worlds by combining their best ingredients. It happens just this with speck that is a variation on the sweet and tender Italian prosciutto, but has elements of the smoked and more tough Northern European ham.

    Food is central in this area and after a long day of skiing or walking there's nothing you will crave more than some cheese with spicy honey, speck on rye bread and a glass of red wine...

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    When Something is as Popular as Italian Cuisine What in the World Could go Wrong?

    When something is as popular as Italian cuisine what in the world could go wrong?

    This is what a group of restaurant owners, retailers, producers and culinary experts tried to figure out in a two-day symposium organized by the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani and hosted at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò in New York. The Symposium also featured a dinner at SD26, the famous restaurant founded by legendary Tony May, one of the founders of the institution.
    The issues at stake, raised by the knowledgeable participants touched different points of discussion: from the personal points of view fruit of the life experiences of the different chefs and retailers, to the cultural aspects embodied by Italian American traditions as opposed to the strictly Italian ones; and finally to the legal and educational aspects behind the need to certify, codify and determine the authenticity of the “Made in Italy” in order to protect it from imitations and misleading variations.

    Since the 1980s, for example, the Italian scenario in New York has dramatically changed. Some people could maintain the point that today some restaurants in New York are more Italian than some restaurants in Italy itself, because they have mastered the art of the best Italian cuisine, they are addressed to sophisticated gourmets use expensive products that often small trattorias in Italy can barely get for themselves.

    In the city, there’s a huge world beyond Little Italy. What’s revolutionary is not only how many great authentic Italian restaurants have been created but the fact that most NewYorkers have started to use products like Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Prosciutto di Parma and real Italian mozzarella on a daily basis. On the other hand,  if you cross NYC's borders, the closest you’ll come to Italy is probably still through a greasy pizza slice...
    These trends are hopefully changing and part of it it’s because people are more informed and educated on the subject and have easy access to great imported products. They are starting to know how to eat healthily but also why  sometimes it is important to prefer original products instead of the "Italian sounding" ones. Of course the original might not always be the cheapest and that presents other issues…

    The Symposium focused on Italian cuisine and its popularity here in the US. Is its success a success or, in some ways, a defeat?

    French Chef Ferdinand Metz highlighted the differences between the French and the Italian cuisines, showing how the first is much more "standardized" than the second, both in terms of recipes and techniques. On the other hand, Italian chefs like Tony May and Cesare Casella lamented a general misunderstanding of what is the "authentic Italian cuisine" and a deep ignorance of its essential characterics

    In the huge spectrum of theories presented one can identify the main trends of thought: the first one is that there is one and only “Made in Italy”: the products imported and used must be coming from Italy, and innovations and new techniques must be conceived there just as well. This way one can aim to reach the highest quality of cucina italiana imaginable, and the public should adapt to it. According to this point of view, there is a need to educate the general audience to such high standards, given that nowadays Italian cuisine is commonly portrayed as poor in ingredients and preparation

    Then there are those who are able to distinguish and choose between a cuisine that is authentic Italian and one that is inspired. They still use Italian products, but they might get more creative in the preparation and the interpretation of a tradition.

    The third group is composed by those who take in much greater consideration Italian American traditions and the needs and requests of the American public. You also have those who argue, on the other hand, that most so-called Italian products are not originally Italian, like tomatoes and coffee, and there is an “evolution” within food culture. Italian food is technically partially North African, Austrian, South American... So who are we to define one standard?

    At the extreme end of the spectrum, you have those who don’t think that in the United States, you have to use Italian products to cook Italian dishes. It’s just a matter of recipes, family history and general cultural concepts applied to the United States.

    A real Italian might have never eaten nor have prepared in his/her entire life a dish of spaghetti with meatballs, especially if prepared the United States fashion, but who can really dare to take that dish away from Italian Americans in the name of authenticity?

    So this is the main issue. What is considered authentic?

    Is authenticity just a matter of taste, as some participants suggested? A fish from the Mediterranean or a tomato cultivated  in Italy might be tastier or healthier than others coming from abroad, but itn't taste a subjective judgement?

    Is authenticity a matter of regional and local knowledge? In a way it is because it would be very counterproductive for an American chef or a retailer nowadays not to go to Italy, not to learn the newest innovations on the spot. The question is if you are then allowed to "play" with that newly learned knowledge and create something different out of it.

    Finally is authenticity a legal matter? In the best restaurants nowadays you can find menus featuring labels such as DOP, PDO, DOC, DOCG,  which guarantee quality and authenticity.  In the grocery stores’ aisles, there is a variety of "Italian sounding" products, or US or foreign brands that openly imitate the logos of famous Italian firms. Fake “Italian names” are given to random food for marketing purposes. The most famous case is the one of Parmesan, that a lot of people don’t know to be very different from the real (but much more expensive) Parmigiano Reggiano. In this case is it just a matter of cheapening and imitating food or can these companies be sued?

    The general final idea is that the only possible way to ensure the success and the quality of Italian cuisine in the US is to educate the public and the budding chefs attending American culinary schools: the more you are informed on the origins of a product from the nutritional or the legal point of view, the better it is. No doubt about it.

    Maybe it’s not that essential to find a general criteria in terms of food preparation and technique but it’s crucial to definitely focus on the quality of the product before anything else, no matter to what tradition is then applied.

    Italian immigrants brought with them a very poor and simple way of cooking great food: you make good, cheap stuff, and feed your family. Nowadays the “cheap” aspect is what has been lost or has lead to some misunderstandings. Italian cuisine has become more elitaire but its hard not to argue that it has improved, not only because it’s closer to the original but because it’s more carefully prepared.

    The hope is to have educators, experts working in the food industry and producers coming together to find effective ways to spread and teach the basics of  Italian  while allowing some grade of innovation within the tradition

    Moderators: John mariani (food journalist and author, The Dictionary of American Food & Drink, America Eats Out), Davide Paolini (Food journalist), Tim Ryan (President of the Culinary Institute of America)

    Panelists: Stefano Albertini, Associate Director of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, Massimo Bottura (Chef, Michelin restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena), Paul Bartolotta (Spiaggia in Chicago) , Cesare Casella (chef-owner of Salumeria Rosi, Dean of the Italian Culinary Academy), Giovanni Cocco (General Director of ISNART), Michael Colameco (Chef,  host/producer of Colameco’s Food Show), Lou Di Palo, (Proprietor of Di Palo Fine Foods), Thomas Gellert (Principal of Gellert Global Group), Tony May (restaurateur, owner of SD26), Ferdinand Metz (chef, spokesperson for the Italian Culinary Foundation), Ennio Ranaboldo Chef Executive Officer of Lavazza’s North America, Gianfranco Sorrentino (owner of restaurant GAttopardo and President of GRI), Michael Wilson (Editor-in-Chief La Cucina Italiana )

    Sponsors: Consorzio Speck Alto Adige PGI, Consorzio Tutela Formaggio Asiago PDO, Coalvita Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Italy America Chamber of Commerce, Italian Culinary Foundation, Lavazza, Riso Bello, Atalanta World of Imports, Acqua Smeraldina Natural Artesian water, Swiss Chalet Fine Foods

  • Op-Eds

    Soccer vs Baseball: Sports or Philosophies of Life?

     Soccer, soccer, soccer. Since the World Cup started, it’s all we can talk about. Who will win? Which country do you support? How patriotic are you?

    Europeans don’t need something as extraordinary as the World Cup to talk about soccer, but it’s strange to hear the major US networks, newspapers, the most famous comedians and talk shows dedicate more and more time to soccer.

    This is obviously a media-centric event, much like the Olympics, but it’s also true that the trend is changing. Soccer, the most unpopular game in the US for years, has now gained a form of respect, an attention that encourages Americans to know more about it, whether by looking up to certain players or by practicing and playing it from a young age.  

    Still though, baseball remains the national sport and as many Americans like to point out, this pedestal is about something bigger than the game itself.

    The first day the World Cup started I turned my TV on ESPN and there it was: two hours of college baseball. In Italy, meanwhile, every single channel had something on the upcoming soccer matches. 

    And that brings us to the eternal debate. Why is soccer not popular in the US? Why is sport perceived so differently in the two countries?

    Year after year, we hear the same things said over and over, the same inevitable comments on both sides. Raise your hand if you have never heard an Italian (or a European) say: “Baseball is the most boring game in the world. Nothing happens. There are too many rules, too many pauses”. Or an American say: “Soccer is pure anarchy. Soccer is a simplistic game, it’s something for kids and little girls”.

    It’s fascinating because the way a country approaches sports reflects other aspects of the culture and shows what the prioritized values in society are.  

    It can become a political thing or a matter of ethics.

    In fact, a few decades ago - and still today in the most conservative circles - soccer was considered deeply “un-American”, a game that stands for “enemies”, “third world” countries, like the South American neighbors, and which displays typical “un-American” characteristics.  

    The comedian Stephen Colbert recently joked about this in a monologue comparing baseball to soccer. In baseball you have the complexity of rules and various phases- seen in a positive and negative light. There are “time ins and time outs”, a sense of pace, safety and the reassurance that you are guided through the game. There is a deep need for the ritual, songs like “take me out to the Ball game”, movements and specific moments (“kiss-cam” or cues given by music) in which the audience is supposed to react a certain way.

    Soccer stadiums have their rituals too, their slogans, their songs, but they are more spontaneous and less universal. They are not always the same.  

    What’s even more intriguing is that these kind of comparisons are often made not only in the field of sport. Take a graduation ceremony in the United States: it’s exactly the same feel, a beautiful ritual which comes at the end of a more guided and supervised academic career compared to the more spontaneous and independent academic career that you can pursue in Europe. At the end of college in Europe there are wild parties and celebrations but not a universalized ritual. Both are equally fun and meaningful: they simply reflect a mentality that goes beyond the sports field. 

    Then again, soccer is grassroots passion, technique and strategy. Its supporters argue that it’s “the real sport,” a sport where you sweat, you run, you are one with your team. A sport that, yes, little kids and girls can play easily, but that through the great champions shows what genius, grace and practice can mean… 

    Another big difference is the audience participation. Most Europeans are shocked when they walk into a baseball stadium and very few people are actually watching the game: there’s eating, there’s drinking, chatting, looking around for friends, roaming into the hallways of the stadium with a hotdog in your hand.

    Most important, in some moments there is a strange silence, or a low background buzz. And then in the old continent, you have a heated game, fans who barely eat or drink because they can’t take their eyes off the field. They constantly, non-stop, show their support to their team. Not just one yell or one song, but 90 minutes of uninterrupted chants, cheering and shouting. 

    There is the national anthem, something that in Italy you only hear during the World Cup, while in the United States is used to open each game. Americans (most of the times, at least) really mean it when they are singing with a hand on their heart and hats off, while for Italians the anthem is sort of a joke. It’s true Italians are less patriotic. But in a way, it’s crucial to remember how they have been much more deeply united by a sport than Americans. In the past decades it was soccer and the World Cups Italy won (as in 1982) that unified a country, bringing it together more than any political law. Everyone feels Italian when Italy plays, the rich, the poor, the little kid and the old man. It’s the people’s game, not just the national sport. 

    There are some who argue that with baseball, and even more with US football, the violence is symbolized through the game or it’s contained within it - like in a gladiators’ match - but doesn’t spread through the fans and hooligans, who cathartically experience it but don’t practice it. This is sort of a pretentious statement, although it’s undeniable how much more violent sports’ fans are in Europe, when soccer in itself it’s not a violent sport and compared to football has less physical contact.   

    Sports are linked with politics, economics, the way you are brought up. The slogans in the soccer stadiums in Italy reflect the latest news, the political parties linked to the team, the financial investments involved… racial or religious prejudices find their way into the chants. In the US there’s a detachment from politics, which could mean a “cleaner,” more neutral stadium. But it also reflects a general disinterest and apathy.  

    Italy puts a huge emphasis on soccer: little kids could tell you every single player, minor little details, an infinite number of data and facts on a team or on a tournament better that they will ever know History or Geography. An American kid does the same with baseball or basketball or football, although having more options in terms of sports and a huge country to grasp, there’s probably less that he will know.

    The Italian paradox, though, is that in school, at least, there’s barely any sport or any possibility of practice. P.E. is a couple of hours a week, its’ almost a long ”recess” where nothing is really taught. In Italy kids don’t get scholarships for sports and they are never trained for it in school. P.E. is regarded as a minor subject - most high-schools barely consider it for the final GPA. You can still play soccer but in small tournaments or leagues outside of school.

    On the other hand, with the dedication that American schools put into sports, and into treating athletes like students, giving baseball the same importance of Math, even if soccer might never be the most popular sport in the US, you might find a kid who has played it a billion more hours than a European one…and isn’t that ironic? 

    Finally, there is one big issue that always comes up when this debate arises. How can there be a sport where at the end of a match no one wins? Well, the question posed often by Americans regarding soccer games ending in a tie, sometimes shows a little ignorance, because a soccer match even when it ends 0-0, still gets a determinate amount of points to the team that could benefit it or not. But the problem is not really that: it’s in the satisfaction of seeing someone winning or losing, it‘s in setting things straight.

    America is about big numbers, matches that end with double digits: there’s nothing more American than vastness, largeness, greatness and “setting things straight”. 

    Sports become once again political, social. One could even go as far as saying that, on the one hand, soccer is very direct, populist, and allows for equal opportunities. On the other hand, baseball is the epitome of representative democracy, in which you pass things, base after base.

    As far as winners and losers are concerned, it’s funny how, at every US presidential election, Italian newspapers or Italians in general are always incredibly shocked at how quickly the candidate who loses disappears from the political scene. Of course, McCain and Kerry are still active in politics, but once the match is won, one winner remains, while in Italy, politics drag in that grey area of those who can still block things from getting done, regardless of their title.  Can sports be a lesson for politics?

    Obviously these are all big generalizations, but they prove once again that sports are not simply sports and that the next time you criticize or comment on a baseball or a soccer game, you might look at how many interesting implications there are in choosing between hitting a ball with a bat or kicking it with your foot.

  • Events: Reports

    Did James Joyce Call Bloom the Man who Had Called Himself Svevo?

    Have you ever heard of Bloomsday?  Well, for those who haven't, it’s not a lighter version of any religion’s Doomsday, nor a celebration of the blooming of flowers in Spring...

    It’s a unique celebration dedicated to Leopold Bloom. He is neither a politician, a king nor an inventor, but a fictional character created by James Joyce to represent the modern “everyman”; he is an elaborate literary twist on the Ulysses’ archetype.

    Sometimes, in fact, a book can be so revolutionary and the characters so groundbreaking that they become cornerstones, they split a historical era in two, changing forever our view of the world: They thus deserve a day of the year all for themselves.

    Every year in Dublin, Ireland - where James Joyce was born and where the book Ulysses is set – June 16 is a day on which both Mr. Bloom and its creator are celebrated throughout the city with events, exhibits, and performances.The idea is to roam around and bring back to life the events of the book, which “happened” originally on June 16 1904
    Ireland is not the only country that pays homage to James Joyce: nowadays Bloomsday is celebrated all throughout the world.
    In a way, it’s a an Irish holiday. Just like St’ Patrick’s Day, it involves pub crawling and Irish music... the fascinating thing, though, is that it’s also very connected with the Italian tradition. And, even more surprisingly, with the Italian-Jewish tradition.
    First of all Leopold Bloom is a Jew with Hungarian origins. Although in the book he’s not “technically” Jewish (his mother is Irish) his roots are important to define his personality and view of the world.Bloom is the first Alexander Portnoy and, to a certain extent, the first Woody Allen (although some passionates of the book could define what just stated a “blasphemy”): he’s a Jewish fictional persona that becomes an embodiment of Jewish archetypes, neurosis, trends of thoughts and deepest ideas, influenced by the common cultural and religious tradition.
    So how is he Italian?  Behind the character of Leopold Bloom there is actually a man called Ettore Schmitz, a Jewish man from Trieste who then became famous in Italy as a writer under the pseudonym of Italo Svevo; he was a writer that would turn Italian literature upside-down similarly to how Joyce did with the Anglo-American one.

    Joyce found inspiration in him and reproduced in his work some of the Italian man's psychological traits and life events, also shaping "his Dublin" on the city of Trieste, located in the North-East of Italy.
    In 1907, James Joyce became Italo Svevo's English teacher and mentor, a professional relationship that soon became a strong friendship. The two men shared a  lot of “elective affinities”. Joyce realized his pupil was very curious about literature, new theories of psycho-analysis, philosophy and nontraditional writing styles. Svevo, son of Francesco Schmitz and Allegra Moravia, was actually a very educated man. In Germany he had attended the Brussel Institute where he had the chance to read Schiller, Goethe, Schopenhauer and his contemporary writers.

    Trieste in those years was bursting with ideas, intellectuals, writers and it became a crossroad fro the literary and the publishing industry. Its economy was booming along with its culture: poets, artists and musicians created their groups, and gathered at events and parties hosted by very influential families.
    Before Svevo met Joyce he had already tried to become a writer. He published, mostly at his expenses, Una Vita and Senilità but since his work did not receive much attention, he became a businessman. However, at the time he met Joyce, he was still involved with writing diaries, short stories and random thoughts that afterwards became the basis of a new revolutionary book: Zeno’s Conscience, a classic in modern literature that is now studied in every high-school and university.
    Joyce’s Ulysses features an extensive and original use of the "stream of consciousness" technique, a style that allows the author to report his thoughts in written form without literary filters or rambling, often revealing hidden or strange implications.
    Svevo, on the other side, is more rational in his style but in his book -a fictional diary published by a revengeful psychiatrist that wants to get back at his client- the border between conscious and subconscious thoughts is often not clear. If you analyze it carefully there are various contradictions between the actions and the thoughts of the characters, between his expectations, imagination and reality and his rational ethic and needs. Zeno is a modern character and, just like Bloom, he is a anti-hero.
    There is much more to be said about the collaboration or the influence that these two writers had on each other. There is much more to be said about the reason why these characters are important for their own countries and for the Jewish world and image.
    There are also very fascinating aspects of the Italian Jewish history that are pointed out when describing the community of Trieste.
    If you want to learn more about the subject, you should celebrate Bloomsday in New York City by going to the JCC (Jewish Community Center), and attend an event organized by the Primo Levi Center, a cultural and research institute on Italian Jewish history.
    The program foresees the screening of the movie “Le Parole di Mio Padre” (My Father’s Words), based on Zeno’s Conscience and a discussion with Andrea Malaguti, Director of Undergraduate Studies at Columbia University
    Bloomsday first US celebrations dates back to 1954, and have been characterized by a number of initiatives, including races and walks in the US, becoming a metaphor of a  symbolic journey, a personal Odyssey, a way to trigger your imagination and ultimately find your inner self.


    JUNE 16th at 7 pm | JCC in Manhattan

    Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street

    more info: 
    Centro Primo Levi Web Site

  • Arte e Cultura

    Giovanna Taviani. Verso una nuova generazione di documentari

    Le Isole Eolie, piccoli paradisi un pò isolati dal resto della Sicilia e dell'Italia, così diverse l'una dall'altra e così' uniche nell'aver mantenuto vive antiche tradizioni e uno stile di vita spartano e affascinante, sono, nel nostro immaginario, da sempre connesse al cinema. Nanni Moretti,per esempio,  in Caro Diario, ce le ha presentate con diverse "personalità", ogni isola rappresentante di qualche stile di vita o di pensiero diverso e lui è uno dei tanti registi che hanno fatto omaggio a queste misteriose isole.

    Non è un caso quindi che nell'isola di Salina da ormai quattro anni ci sia un festival che cattura lo spirito originario del cinema italiano, un festival di documentari che porta alla luce le diverse realtà dell'area del Mediterraneo, che ci fa ascoltare racconti di emigrati e emigranti, che omaggia il grande cinema italiano e cattura nei suoi fotogrammi spezzoni di vita vissuta. Questo è il Salinadocfest che si svolgerà questo Settembre (12-19/9/2010).

    Anche se non avete la possibilità di visitare Salina a Settembre, quando i turisti hanno riposto gli ombrelloni e abbandonano le spiagge e se vi trovate a New York allora non potete perdervi la presentazione di questo festival al Calandra Institute, incontrando la regista e direttrice del festival Giovanna Taviani - che mostrerà' anche il suo primo documentario - e scoprendo chi collabora con il festival (I-Italy e ANFE-Associazione Nazionale Famiglie Emigranti) e quali progetti ci sono nel futuro ore collegare gli Stati Uniti e la Sicilia. Alla fine magari dopo questo incontro, prendere un biglietto per Salina, sembrerà' l'idea migliore per concludere l'estate... 

    I-Italy ha incontrato Giovanna Taviani, una giovane regista piena di talento cresciuta circondata dai grandi maestri del cinema italiano e assorbendo l'ambiente e la storia cinematografica italiana mentre muoveva i suoi primi passi. Suo padre e suo zio sono i famosi Fratelli Taviani che con il loro stile realistico e letterario hanno lasciato un segno inequivocabile nella Storia del nostro paese.

    Giovanna collabora con importanti riviste, è una studiosa, una saggista e una critica di cinema, ma la sua grande passione dove mostra tutto il suo talento sono i documentari. Giovanna ha fondato il Salinadocfest con una precisa filosofia di pensiero e un progetto concreto in mente, idee che ha condiviso con noi in questa intervista. 

    Come e quando è nata l’idea per il SalinaDocFest?

    L’idea è nata quasi per caso, in una estate di quattro anni fa, a Salina. Da anni gli albergatori dell’isola si lamentavano per una scarsa affluenza del turismo durante le stagioni più belle, come Settembre, il mese delle vendemmie. Così, una sera, un amico di vecchia data, Alberto Oliviero, presidente dell’Associazione SalinaIsolaVerde, mi chiese: - Giovanna, perché non ti inventi qualcosa per promuovere un turismo culturale destagionalizzato qui nelle isole? – Per quel che mi riguarda, da anni sognavo di portare il mestiere che amo nell’isola che amo. In più sapevo che le Eolie, oltre ad essere nel patrimonio dell’Unesco tra le isole più belle del mondo, erano state set di grandi film del passato, da Stromboli terra di Dio con Ingrid Bergman a Vulcano con Anna Magnani; dall’Avventura di Antonioni a Kaos dei fratelli Taviani, dove io stessa feci una parte quando ero bambina; fino al Postino di Troisi e a Caro diariodi Nanni Moretti. Per non dimenticare i grandi documentari di Vittorio De Seta, che a Stromboli girò uno dei suoi più bei film, Isole di fuoco, e i documentari subacquei del gruppo di Moncada, Maraini, D’Avanzo e Alliata, che proprio a Salina fondarono la mitica sede della “Panaria Film”. Allora mi son detta: facciamo un festival di documentari a Salina, un’idea un po’ folle, vista la difficoltà dei collegamenti con l’isola, quasi una scommessa. E cosi nel settembre 2007 è nata la prima edizione del Salinadocfest.  

    Il Mediterraneo è sempre stato un melting pot di popoli che ha dato vita a grandi incontri di civiltà e che ha portato a grandi collaborazioni culturali e artistiche. E’ ancora oggi cosi’?

    Il Mediterraneo, come tu dici, è stato sin dai tempi dell’antichità crocevia di scambi e incontri, andate e ritorni. Uno scrittore da noi molto noto, Vincenzo Consolo, premiato dal nostro Comitato di Onore nella edizione del 2008, pone questo movimento ininterrotto attraverso il Mediterraneo come il fulcro stesso della civiltà, quando afferma: “Siamo ciechi a voler scansare o eludere quell’incontro o incrocio di etnie, di lingue, di religioni, di memorie, di culture; incrocio che è stato da sempre il segno del cammino della civilità”. Oggi che quel mare si è trasformato in barriera di separazione, muro del pianto e del lutto, tradito nella sua vera essenza dalla politica italiana dei respingimenti, il concetto di civiltà e di identità rischiano di venire intaccati. Perché senza una cultura della differenza, non si può avere percezione di una identità; che è come dire: chi teme la conoscenza dell’altro, teme la conoscenza di se stesso. Al Mediterraneo e ai popoli che lo abitano è dedicato il “Salinadocfest. Immagini culture e realtà del Mediterraneo”.

    L’isola di Salina e l’isola di Manhattan cos’hanno in comune?

    Sono entrambe isole di lacrime e di speranze. Nel secolo scorso le isole Eolie conobbero il dolore dell’emigrazione e l’ansia della scoperta del nuovo mondo. Tra la fine dell’ottocento e l’inizio del Novecento quasi 6000 persone scapparono da Salina, che ne contava appena 7000, per fuggire alla crisi dei vigneti causata da un insetto velenoso. L’isola si spopolò e rimase per molto tempo vuota. Una delle rotte privilegiate dai salinari fu proprio Ellis Island, a Manhattan, come racconta in Nuovo Mondo il regista Emanuele Crialese, che si andò a documentare proprio a Salina, nel bellissimo museo dell’emigrazione di Malfa. In America i nostri emigrati si organizzarono con intelligenza, creando società di mutuo soccorso per i connazionali che arrivavano senza soldi e senza conoscenza della lingua. Ma dovettero faticare per farsi accettare dal nuovo mondo, che li guardava con sospetto e diffidenza, proprio come oggi “noi” italiani guardiamo ai nuovi immigrati provenienti dai paesi del terzo mondo.
    Al ponte Sicilia-America il Salinadocfest dedica le prossime edizioni, in collaborazione con l’Anfe, Associazione Nazionale Famiglie Emigrate, nel ricordo del tempo in cui gli emigranti eravamo noi, costretti, ieri come oggi, ad emigrare lontano per cercare fortuna altrove.

    All’interno del vasto genere del documentario, come definiresti i tuoi lavori?

    Credo che oggi il documentario, rispetto al film di finizione, abbia il privilegio di restituirci la realtà  raccontando delle storie. Per questo abbiamo scelto come sottotitolo del Salinadocfest “Festival del documentario narrativo”. Io stessa come regista tendo sempre a partire dalla realtà - un’inchiesta, un articolo di giornale, un esperienza diretta vissuta sul campo - per reinventarla attraverso un punto di vista personale, la costruzione di un intreccio narrativo, la messa in scena di personaggi: vale a dire attraverso il linguaggio del cinema. Credo cioè che il documentario sia prima di tutto un film, con una propria sceneggiatura, una regia, un montaggio, una fotografia, con la differenza che non ricorre ad attori professionisti ma a persone reali incrociate lungo il corso della vita. In Italia è nata una ottima generazione di registi documentaristi che tornano al documentario della più alta tradizione (da Flaherty a De Seta) per reinventarlo in maniera soggettiva, personale, creativa.  

    Sono molti gli emigrati dalla Sicilia in America. Pensi che questo festival può avere un significato particolare per queste persone?

    Credo di sì e abbiamo avuto modo di sondarne l’interesse durante la scorsa edizione, nell’ambito della sezione “Superotto in famiglia”, organizzata dall’Anfe, dedicata alla memoria documentata dei nostri emigrati in America. All’interno di una Chiesa in una bellissima baia dell’isola, abbiamo proiettato dei superotto provenienti da siciliani che vivono in America da più generazioni e che avevano documentato la loro esperienza nel corso della loro vita. Al piano, di fronte allo schermo, un musicista siciliano commentava le immagini come negli antichi filmini muti. La gente dell’isola, che per ciascuna famiglia conta almeno uno o più emigrati, partecipava in silenzio commosso. A questi spettatori ci rivolgiamo con il nostro Festival, con la speranza, e con il progetto comune, di costruire nel tempo un archivio della memoria di tutti i migranti del mondo, per continuare a ricordare chi siamo e da dove veniamo.   

    Cosa ti aspetti da questa presentazione newyorkese del festival?

    Con la direttrice di I-Italy Letizia Airos, conosciuta attraverso la mediazione di Gaetano Calà, direttore dell’Anfe, il Salinadocfest ha in progetto un concorso web dedicato agli emigrati siciliani in America, che potrebbe aprire prospettive interessanti per il nostro Festival. Pochi giorni fa a Roma abbiamo incontrato la redazione di Studio Universal, un importante canale satellitario in Italia, dedicato al cinema americano, che si è detta disponibile a collaborare con il Salinadocfest per una sezione dedicata al cinema americano che trae le sue origini dal nostro paese: da Turturro a Coppola, da Vincent Schiavelli a Rober De Niro, fino a Martin Scorsese che vorremmo avere come nostro ospite di onore all’edizione 2011 del Salinadocfest. L’evento di New York è il primo e necessario passo.  

    Che cosa accomuna gli artisti di questa edizione? Che novità ci sono?
    Il tema che abbiamo scelto come filo rosso della prossima edizione è “Il mio paese: l’identità”. In un momento in cui, in Italia, in Europa, e più in generale nei paesi del Mediterraneo, il concetto stesso di identità, privata e pubblica, personale e sociale, femminile e maschile, sembra vacillare, ci è sembrato giusto dedicare il nostro Festival alla ricerca dell’identità in un tempo disgregato e frammentato. Credo che i registi, gli scrittori, gli artisti che parteciperanno alla quarta edizione del Festival si sentano accomunati da questa necessità: ridefinire un orizzonte comune di valori per domandarci chi siamo, da dove veniamo, dove andiamo.   

    Vedi gli Stati Uniti come un buon punto di lancio anche per future collaborazioni con le miriadi di festival di documentari che ci sono in questo paese?

    Lo spero vivamente. Negli Stati Uniti il documentario è un genere in ascesa e i festival dei documentari sono una realtà importante. Il Tribeca film festival è solo uno dei molteplici esempi. Il Salinadocfest si è gemellato con uno dei più importanti Festival cinematografici del Brasile, la Mostra internazionale del cinema di San Paolo, diretto da Leon Kakoff. Speriamo ora, sbarcando come fecero i nostri nonni ad Ellis Island, di farci conoscere e apprezzare anche negli Stati Uniti.

    Che cosa ti ha spinto a voler fare documentari? Qual è il primo che hai girato?

    Credo che la mia generazione sia mossa da un’impellente “sete di realtà” che il monopolio della televisione ha offuscato e allontanato in una rappresentazione spettacolare, molto distante dalle cose che ci accadono veramente attorno. Viviamo in una bolla di sapone, senza riuscire a intravedere un orizzonte al di là dei vetri opachi. E’ forse per questo che ho cominciato a fare documentari e quando qualcuno mi chiede: - quando girerà un film “vero”? – io rispondo: - ma noi facciamo film! - Solo che raccontiamo la realtà, da quella partiamo e a quella torniamo, talvolta in modo persino visionario e surreale. La verità, come diceva Balzac, non è mai verosimile! Mi piace molto la possibilità che offre il documentario di lavorare con materiali di repertorio, con la memoria, e spesso utilizzo spezzoni di film del passato per raccontare il nostro presente. E’ quel che ho fatto con il mio documentario di esordio, I nostri 30 anni Generazioni a confronto, un viaggio nella memoria del cinema italiano, attraverso quattro generazioni di registi, per sapere come eravamo e come, forse, saremo.  


    Parliamo di giovani. In America insegnano che l’età non conta per saper narrare una storia unica, pensi che si possa far arrivare questo messaggio anche in Italia?

    Posso parlare della mia esperienza personale. Il mio primo documentario l’ho girato tardi, superati i 30 anni, forse per paura del confronto inevitabile con i padri da cui provengo. Volevo arrivarci preparata e con un’ identità  “mia” ben riconoscibile. Vengo dalla letteratura e da un percorso accademico, lungo e faticoso, pieno di battaglie e sconfitte, all’interno dell’università. Oggi credo che quella formazione abbia fatto bene a quel che sono oggi e ai miei documentari, che nascono sempre da una riflessione, da un’indagine attenta della realtà in cui viviamo.  Per questo dico spesso agli studenti che hanno l’ansia di esprimersi subito: non abbiate fretta, organizzate prima un vostro punto di vista sul mondo e poi le cose verranno da sole.

    Puoi fare qualche accenno al film che presenti a New York?

    E’ un viaggio in automobile per le strade di Roma, che ho compiuto allo scoccare dei miei 30 anni, attraverso quattro generazioni di registi, dai nonni ai padri ai figli, ai quali ho chiesto di raccontarmi cosa ha significato per loro essere giovani e avere una macchina da presa in mano per raccontare i giovani “del” loro tempo “nel” loro tempo. Ho cominciato dai trentenni “vitelloni” degli anni del boom di Dino Risi e Mario Monicelli (il Gassman del Sorpasso e dei Soliti Ignoti), per continuare con i giovani rivoluzionari del 68 (Bellocchio Bertolucci Taviani) per arrivare agli “anni dell’ansia” raccontati da Nanni Moretti inEcce Bombo, girato nel 78, anno del sequestro di Moro, e chiudere con la nuova generazione di trentenni italiani (oggi quarantenni) che ho riunito attorno al tavolo del Biondo Tevere, storica trattoria romana dove Visconti girò Bellissima. Ne viene fuori un viaggio in discesa, dai “furori e le utopie” dei nostri padri all’oblio del presente, contrassegnato dalla perdita delle ideologie e delle grandi speranze. Eppure non c’è rassegnazione: accanto all’esigenza di tornare a raccontare la realtà del nostro paese, come nella più alta tradizione del nostro cinema, è nata in Italia una nuova generazione di registi, da Garrone a Sorrentino, da Crialese a Munzi, da Marra a Vicari, che stanno reinventando il cinema italiano con un nuovo linguaggio e una nuova vitalità espressiva. 

  • Art & Culture

    Giovanna Taviani. A New Generation of Documentarists at SalinaDocFest

     The fourth edition of Salinadocfest is approaching in the Fall (September 12-19 2010). It is a festival which brings to life the voices of the Mediterranean area, the tales of immigrants, the history of Italian cinema and snapshots of real life. You have two options…: one is to go and visit this beautiful island and attend the Festival enjoying this unique side of Sicily during a season when tourists don’t crowd the streets and the beaches; the other, easier, is to go to midtown New York at the Calandra Institute and meet with director Giovanna Taviani, watch her first documentary, and get to know the forces behind the festival. This fantastic event is sponsored by I-Italy and ANFE (Associazione Nazionale Famiglie Emigranti), and perhaps after the presentation on June 11th you will want to do both things…

    We have met with Giovanna Taviani, a talented young film-maker who grew up surrounded by the world of cinema, being the daughter and niece of the famous Taviani brothers, who redefined film-making in Italy with their compelling and inspiring stories.

    Giovanna has become a scholar and critic on cinema and literature, but her true talent can be seen in her documentaries. Giovanna has also founded the Salinadocfest with a specific vision in mind, a vision she shared with us in this interview. 

    How did you come up with the idea for Salinadocfest?

    Four years ago, I came across this idea almost by chance, during the summer, in Salina. The hotel owners of the islands had complained to me for years about the decrease in tourism during the most beautiful months, such as September, during the vintage season. So, one evening, an old friend of mine, Alberto Oliviero, President of the Association SalinaIsolaVerde asked me: “Giovanna, why don’t you come up with something that will also help us promote cultural tourism here in the islands, aside from the summer holidays?”

    As far as I’m concerned, for years I had dreamed about bringing the job I love to the island I love. Furthermore, I knew that the Eolie Islands are not only protected by Unesco as some of the most beautiful islands in the whole world, but they were also the location of great movies of the past, from Stromboli terra di Dio with Ingrid Bergman, to Vulcano with Anna Magnani; from Antonioni’s L’Avventura to the Taviani Brothers’ Kaos, in which I acted as a young child; also Troisi’s Il Postinoand Nanni Moretti’s Caro Diario. One cannot forget the great documentaries by Vittorio De Sica, who shot in Stromboli one of his greatest movies, Isole di Fuoco, and the submarine documentaries of the Moncada group, Marain, D’avanzo and Alliata, who founded in Salina the legendary studio “Panaria Film”. So that’s why I said: let’s create a documentary film festival in Salina, kind of a crazy idea, given how difficult it is to reach the island; it was almost a bet. And that is how in September 2007 we started the first edition of the festival. 

    The Mediterranean sea has always been a melting pot of people that has allowed for great encounters among civilizations and has brought great cultural and artistic collaboration. Is this concept still valid and true today?

    The Mediterranean area, as you say, has always been a crossroads of exchanges and encounters, arrivals and departures. A very famous Italian writer, Vincenzo Consolo, awarded by our Honorary Committee during the 2008 edition, places these constant movements across the Mediterranean as the heart of civilization itself, when he declares: “ We are blind in trying to avoid that encounter and mix of ethnic groups, languages, religions, memories and cultures; an encounter that has always been linked to the progression of civilization”. Now that that sea has been turned, today, into a barrier of separation, a “Western Wall” that evokes sorrow and mourning, betrayed in its very essence by the strict Italian immigration policies that refuse entry to others, the concepts of civilization and identity are in danger of being affected and compromised. Because without the culture of the “Difference” (of the Other), you cannot have the perception of an identity; in other words, he who is afraid of knowing others, is afraid of knowing himself. To the Mediterranean and its people is dedicated the Salinadocfest. Images, Cultures and reality in the Mediterranean”

    What do the island of Salina and the island of Manhattan have in common?

    They are both islands of tears and hopes. During the past century the Eolie islands experienced the pain of emigration and the strife to find a new world. Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th almost 6000 people left Salina, who had only 7000 inhabitants. They wanted to escape because of a crisis caused by an insect that poisoned all the vineyards. The island became less and less populated - almost deserted - for a long time. One of the favorite destinations for the Salinari was Ellis Island and then Manhattan, as you can also see in the movie Nuovo Mondo by director Emanuele Crialese who actually found a lot of his documentation and background for the movie in Salina, in the beautiful museum of Emigration in Malfa. 

    In America our immigrants organized their life really well, creating the Società di Mutuo Soccorso (the Mutual Aid Society) for their fellow country-men who arrived without money and not speaking English. They really had to struggle to be accepted in the New World, which looked down on them with suspicion and diffidence, in the same way “we”, the Italians, look at the new immigrants coming from third world countries.

    To the America-Sicily “bridge” Salinadocfest dedicates the next editions along with Anfe (National Association of Emigrated Families), remembering the time when we were the immigrants, forces, yesterday like today, to emigrate far away to search for fortune somewhere else.

    Within the very vast documentary genre how would you define your work?

    I think that the documentary, compared to a fiction narrative feature, has the privilege to offer a slice of reality, at the same time telling stories. That’s why we chose the tagline Festival of the narrative documentary” for Salinadocfest. I myself as a director tend always to start from reality- an inquiry, a newspaper article, an experience I actually lived- so that then I can reinvent it through a personal point of view, the construction of a narrative plot, and characters that come into play: basically through the language of cinema. I believe that a documentary is a movie first of all, with its own screenplay, directorial style, editing, photography, with the difference that it doesn’t use professional actors but real people met along the way. In Italy there is an excellent generation of directors of documentaries who take their inspiration from the documentaries of the highest tradition (from Flaherty to De Seta)  re-interpreting it in a subjective, personal and creative way. 

    There are many immigrants from Sicily in the United States. Do you think this festival can have a particular significance to these people?

    I would think so and we were able to test their interest during the past edition, in our section “Superotto in Famiglia” (Home-movies), organized by Anfe, dedicated to the memory of our immigrants in the United States. Inside a Church in a beautiful bay on the island, we projected the 8-mm films brought there by Sicilians who have lived in the United States for generations and who had documented their experience throughout their life. While playing the piano, in front of the screen, a Sicilian musician commented the images like in the early silent films. The people in the island, whose families have each at least one person abroad, responded with an emotional silence. We aim at this audience with our Festival, with the hope and mutual interest in a project that will gradually build an archive of all the immigrants all over the world, to keep remembering who we are and where we come from. 

    What do you expect from this NY presentation of the festival?

    The Salinadocfest, -along with the Editor in Chief of I-Italy, Letizia Airos, whom I met through Gaetano Cala’, Director of Anfe – has in mind a web contest aimed at Sicilian immigrants in the United States, which could open interesting new perspectives for our festival. A few days ago in Rome we met with Studio Universal, an important cable network in Italy, dedicated to the American movies that in different ways have roots within our country: from Turturro to Coppola, from Vincent Schiavelli to Robert De Niro, to obviously Martin Scorsese whom we’d like to have as an honorary guest for our 2011 edition. Therefore this presentation in New York is the first important step to take. 

    What do the artists of this edition have in common? What’s new this year?

    The theme we chose as a common thread for the next edition is ”My country: the identity”. In a moment when in Italy, in Europe and more in general in the Mediterranean area, the concept itself of identity, private and public, personal and social, female and male, seems to shift, we thought it was about time that we focused on the research for identity in a fragmented and disjointed era. I think the directors, the writers, the artists that will take part in the 4th edition feel united by the necessity of redefining a common horizon of values and to ask ourselves who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. 

    Do you see the United States as a launch pad for future collaborations with the myriads of documentary film festivals in this country?

    I really hope so. In the United States the documentary is a rising genre and the festivals are very important. Tribeca is one of the many examples. Salinadocfestival has paired up  with one of the most important festivals in Brasil, The International Exhibit of Cinema in San Paolo, directed by Leon Kakoff. I hope that, now, arriving on the American shores like our grandparents did in Ellis Island, we can get our name out there and be appreciated there, as well. 

    What lead you to documentaries? What was the first one you shot?

    I think my generation has been driven by a clenching thirst for reality that the omnipresent power of television has overshadowed and taken away through a constant spectacular representation, very distant from the things that happen around us. We live in a bubble, unable to clearly see a horizon beyond the blurred glasses. This might be the reason I started working on documentaries and when someone asks me:- when are you going to make a “real” movie? – I answer: but we are making real movies!- It’s just that we are showing reality, from which we start and to which we return, sometimes even in a visionary or surreal way. Truth, as Balzac used to say, is never completely plausible! I really like the possibilities that the documentary genre offers to work with archive footage, with memory, and I often use scenes from movies of the past to narrate the present. It’s what I did with my first documentary, I nostri 30 anni, Generazioni a Confronto (Our 30s: Generations Face to Face) a journey through Italian Cinema, through four generations of directors, to discover how we were and perhaps how we will be.

    Let’s talk about young people. In the United States the general teaching is that age doesn’t matter to tell an original and well-crafted story. Do you think this message could be applied also to Italy?

    Well, I can talk about my personal experience. I shot my first documentary when I was over 30, maybe for the fear of the inevitable comparison with my father and uncle, with the environment I came from. I wanted to get to prepare my project, with my own personal touch. I come from the literary world and from a long and complicated academic career, filled with battles and defeats, within the university. Today I think that education has helped me and has shaped who I am now and my documentaries, that are always born out of a thought, a careful analysis of the reality in which we live. That’s why I always tell the students who are eager to express themselves: don’t rush it, first try to develop your own point of view of the world and everything else will follow. 

    Can you talk briefly about the movie you’ll be showing in New York?

    It’s a  “roadtrip” through the streets of Rome, that I did when I turned 30, meeting four generations of directors along the way, from grandparents to fathers to sons; I asked them to tell me what it meant for them to be young and have a camera in their hands through which they could capture the youth of their time. I started with the 30-something “vitelloni” during the Baby Boom portrayed by Dino Risi and Mario Monicelli (e.g Gassman in Il Sorpasso - The Easy Life or I Soliti Ignoti -Big Deal on Madonna Street), to then go on to the young revolutionaries of 1968 (Bellocchio, Bertolucci, Taviani) , who were followed by the “anxiety years” captured by Nanni Moretti in Ecce Bombo, shot in ‘78, the year in which Aldo Moro was held hostage. Finally I wanted to close with the new generation of 30-something people today that I reunited around the table of Biondo Tevere, a historical restaurant in Rome where Visconti shot Bellissima. What we see is a downfall, from the passion and utopias of our fathers to the oblivion of the present, in which the ideologies died and with them the great hopes of the past. Nevertheless there is no resignation: along with the need to go back to tell the truth in our country, as in the best cinematic traditions, a new generation of directors is born today, from Garrone to Sorrentino, from Crialese to Munzi, from Marra to Vicari, all of which are reinventing Italian cinema with a new language and a new expressive vitality.  

  • Art & Culture

    Antonio Monda: Italian Cinema. An "Open" Road to Success

    Some of the most significant Italian movies of this past year, the ones that the majority of Italians have seen in their movie theaters and have talked about with friends, can now be seen here in New York at the Open Roads Film Festival.
    This is a very different kind of festival. Often, when we look for Italian cinema around the city there are surprisingly lots of venues, film archives, film schools and cultural events that screen, for example, Fellini, Bertolucci or Antonioni movies. At least in New York you are bound to find these programs and screenings almost more than in Italy itself, since here a film counterculture, which sprouted during the 60s, started to praise Italian and French cinema as a response to Hollywood or as an inspiration for new directorial styles.

    Often, though, the focus is on the past, the golden age of neo-Realism and some of the fascinating gems that have come out more recently and depict a 21stcentury Italy or reflect on the past from a modern prospective, remain anchored to the national market and never make it abroad.

    Some of the new directors take the audience to less familiar locations among the Italian landscapes, some face more modern issues within family or society, some pay homage to neo-Realism or to the comedies of the 1960s but they do it within a new narrative framework, a modern way of storytelling.

    The objective of Open Roads is to bring a variety of titles that immerse in the diversity of perspectives and offer something that might be unusual to an American audience.

    New directors such as Salvatores or Muccino, for example, are quite young but very well established, working with professional actors and big budgets. They are independent filmmakers also supported by various important film studios and institutions.

    Antonio Monda, one of the two co-founders, along with Richard Peña, explained how the festival got started and what to expect from it . 

    So, this is the 10th edition. How do you feel about it?

    We are extremely proud to have come so far. Eleven years ago Richard Peña, Giorgio Rosetti and I were sitting on a gorgeous balcony of the Hotel Splendid in Cannes and we decided to found a festival of Italian Cinema in New York. Giorgio, who at the time managed a company, Italia Cinema - which now has become Film Italia and was then absorbed inside Cinecittà - backed us economically. Richard and I focused on the artistic aspect. The goal was to organize at least three editions and now that we got to the tenth we are obviously incredibly satisfied. We established two criteria for the festival: the variety of genres and the quality of the movies, but at the same time we maintained a general freedom in choosing the films. So far our intuitions have been successful.  

    Why the name Open Roads?

    The title Richard and I picked ten years ago was Dolce Cinema, as an homage to La Dolce Vita. The funny thing was that in those years Scorsese was making a documentary on Italian cinema which was entitled Dolce Cinema and we thought it inappropriate to call it the same way, especially since Scorsese would have helped us open the first edition. So we changed it to Open Roads, inspired by Rome Open City, a famous Rossellini movie. Eventually, though, even Scorsese changed the title of his documentary to Viaggio nel Cinema Italiano. 

    Like every year you picked contemporary directors. What’s exciting about this edition? 

    Well, we focus on relatively young people. 95% of them are usually under 50. In this year's program you can see the variety of genres I was telling you about. From the comedian Verdone who’s starring in a very funny movie to the emotional and “larger than life” Baaria. This year’s movies are perhaps linked by the new found tendency in Italian Cinma towards “regionalism”. Different cities are at the center of each story, from Milan (Salvatores) to Livorno (Virzi’), Rome (Verdone), Sicily (Baaria) and so on. This is because the various film commissions give incentives to shoot in their location which allows the directors to experiment with different settings.

    We are proud to open with “The Man who will come” by Giorgio Diritti, a movie that has won 8 David di Donatello, set in the area around Bologna, which is a very powerful movie and a reflection on war and not little known episodes of WW2. 

    Many of the movies in the program this year are definitely influenced by the Commedia all’italiana, especially the funnier, lighter ones. The way a country creates a comedy reflects its national sense of humor. Do you think that there are movies that have things in common with the popular comedies in the United States?

    Well, surprisingly there are similar themes. For example I noticed a lot of US comedies lately have focused on 40-50-year-olds with a bittersweet look on life. Adam Sandler’s  “Funny People” for example focused on that age group and deals with cancer similarly to Virzì’s The First Beautiful Thing (La Prima Cosa Bella). 

    How is the image of Italy changing in contemporary movies?

    For many years, Italian cinema has been famous abroad for certain trademark features that, from the American point of view became symbolic of an entire nation’s spirit. Usually it combined a retro and nostalgic feeling, often had imaginative children as protagonists, a loose narrative structure with a somewhat surreal, not quite realistic tone. Even the most successful modern movies like La vita è bella or Nuovo Cinema Paradiso benefitted from this tradition.

    Now the interest is shifting towards something different and a bit more realistic and modern, and, on certain levels, if the themes remain similar the film language has changed completely.  

    What are the best aspects of this year’s festival?

    I’m happy and satisfied with all the movies we picked but I’m particularly looking forward to the opening and the closing screening. The Man Who Will Come was made by Giorgio Diritti, a director whom we had the pleasure to have also in 2006 with an absolutely original and striking movie called The Wind Blows Round. He has confirmed his talent and this new feature is absolutely striking.

    Also we are closing with an homage to a master that few people know abroad, Bruno Bozzetto, which gives us the opportunity to explore the field of Italian animation. His animated feature is visually stunning and thought-provoking.

    Overall, as I said, I’m very proud. We have brought over 120 movies to the United States and some of them were picked up by US distributors, giving us the opportunity to be a bridge between the two countries.